<2013 “He read a lot of books and his words ran eight to the pound.”—The Son by Philipp Meyer, page 495, [[Texas 1851]]>
Here, I was mostly forced to infer the meaning of the phrase from quotes since I found it listed in only one dictionary (see 1944 quote).
The following quotes are from archived sources with the exception of the 1944 quote which is from a Western dictionary.
Eight to the pound also has a literal meaning. The objects could be considered small if one is talking about fish – 2 ounces ain’t much of a fish (1837, 1997). And eight oranges to the pound makes for a pretty small orange (see 1837 and 1937, 1997, 2013 quotes above). On the other hand, eight to the pound for prawns (2004) , shrimp (1898), and eggs (1882) are considered jumbo, ). ETTP is considered standard size for hot dogs (1931, 1987).<1751 “I took a wax-candle, of eight to the bound, and drew it thro a mold, to make it of one thicknefs from end to end: then weighed it exactly, and lighted it in the fhips hold; . . .”— Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), Vol. 47, 13 June, page 211>
<1837 “Where the streams are small the fish are so too, averaging probably eight to the pound; but, as the brooks approach the size of the petty rivers, the trout also increase in size, averaging two to three to the pound; and in some of the larger pools I have caught them weighing from one to two pounds; but these are rare weights.”—The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.”— (London), page 342>
<1882“Dark Brahmas [hens lay eggs] eight to the pound.”—Los Angeles Times (California), page 0_3>
<1898 “Poultry looks like the best bargain for weekend again. ... splitting jumbo shrimp, the big ones that weigh perhaps “eight to the pound,” . . . Newport Daily News(Rhode Island), 17 August 20.>
<1931 “Frankfurts and sausages are losing their traditional look. A new mold turns out rectangular ones, the sausages linked eight to the pound.”—The Brooklyn Eagle (New York City), 21 December, page 15>
<1944 “Within the cowman's figures of speech lie the rich field of his subtle humor and strength— unique, original, full-flavored. With his usually limited education he squeezes the juice from language, molds it to suit his needs, and is a genius at making a verb out of anything. He ‘don't have to fish 'round for no decorated language to make his meaning' clear,’ and has little patience with the man who ‘spouts words that run eight to the pound.”—Western Words (1998) by R. F. Adams, VII>
<1987 “Hillshire Farms recently introduced Bun Size Wieners, which are 1-inch longer than the standard 5-inch hot dogs. The 6-inch wieners are sold eight to the pound, a count that matches the number in a standard package of commercial hot dog buns.”—Chicago Sun-Timed, 9 July>
<1996 “Anyway, don't mean to spout off like I'm runnin' eight to the pound, but the best fare of all is Ole Biscuit Shooter's Cookie's son-of-a-gun stew, to word it politely.”— Washington Times (D.C.), 19 June>
<2004 “Don't miss huge, succulent Maya prawns, which must weigh in at eight to the pound.”—New York Times,25 July>
<2005 “. . . wieners that come in various case sizes [four to the pound, five to the pound, and eight to the pound].”—The Natural Provisioner, 1 July>
<2013 “Question: Is this sentence correct? What does it mean?: ‘These oranges are so small. There are seven or eight to the pound.’ Answer: ‘It is correct, and it is an idiomatic expression that is not used worldwide. What it means is that the oranges are very, very small. It would take seven or eight of them to add up to one pound.’”—AllExperts.com, 4 December>
So, it seems eight to the pound (ETTP) can have several meanings depending on what it’s refers to.
1) It may indicate that something is of standard size and neither considered large nor small - candles, frankfurters).
2) Sea Food : Can mean large or small. ETTP here means a two ounce fish, which is small. However, a trout, one or two to the pound, would be considered large. Shrimp and prawns sold ETTP are considered jumbo.
3) Eggs: ETTP is considered a jumbo egg.
4) But then there is the figurative use of ETTP, which seems to be used in an opposite way:
a) The original 2013 quote (top of page) “He read a lot of books and his words ran eight to the pound” Used a lot of big words or used a lot of words (spout words).
b) 1944: He ‘don't have to fish 'round for no decorated language to make his meaning' clear,’ and has little patience with the man who ‘spouts words that run eight to the pound.” This usage seems to indicate that the speaker is in the habit of using large flowery language.
c) 1996 “don't mean to spout off like I'm runnin' eight to the pound,” Here I would guess that the implication is that the speaker is a fast talker ‘spouting off,’ even though ‘eight to the pound could also imply the use of big words (but I don't so in this instance).
Ken G – July 21, 2014